Note on seiðr in RTF

Rise To Fall, like all the books in the Danethrall series, is not a fantasy genre book, but I did want to include the mystical aspect of the old Norse belief, seiðr. I was intrigued by the use of magic and ‘potions’ to bring on prophecies, the use of sexuality to enter the spirit realm, and the revere and fear a seiðr practitioner commanded due to her powers.

Seiðr is a pre-Christian Norse form of shamanism and magic. I believe archaeologist and author Neil Price said it best in his book The Viking Way: Magic and Mind in Late Iron Age Scandinavia:

“There were seiðr rituals for divination and clairvoyance; for seeking out the hidden, both in the secrets of the mind and in physical locations; for healing the sick; for bringing good luck; for controlling the weather; for calling game animals and fish. Importantly, it could also be used for the opposite of these things – to curse an individual or an enterprise; to blight the land and make it barren; to induce illness; to tell false futures and thus to set their recipients on a road to disaster; to injure, maim and kill, in domestic disputes and especially in battle.”

Freya and Odin were masters of seiðr, in fact Freya is said to have been the one to bring the art of seiðr to the gods. The use of seiðr has been mentioned in the sagas, the most detailed account being The Saga of Erik the Red and most notably in the poem, Völuspá. Practitioners were commonly women (known as völva, seiðkona, spákona, vǫlur, vísendakona), and though there were mentions of male practitioners called seiðmenn, it was considered ergi (unmanly) for a man to practice seiðr.

Certain aspects of seiðr were sexual in nature. Neil Price has argued that seiðr involved sexual acts; other scholars have pointed out that the völva’s staffs have phallic epithets in various Icelandic sagas – all of which indicate why the practice of seiðr was ergi, from the Norse point of view. To enter ‘ecstatic trance’, bring on visions or ‘enter the spirit world’, the practitioner’s body would have to seethe which may have been induced by orgasm, possibly orgasm reached through penetration with the staff – even more of a reason why the male practice of seiðr would’ve been viewed as ergi, for the Norse believed it was shameful for a man to be the passive participant or recipient of penetration (though there seemed to have been no issue if the man was the active participant.).

Practitioners of seiðr were said to have had assistants to help them with their rituals, though the detailed use of ‘pairs’ that aided the völva’s sexual rites in this book was purely of my own imagination. As well as assistants, seiðr practitioners also used ‘potions’. Of course, modern-day knowledge can debunk the magic and potions, for example, the ‘potions’ featured in this book:

Amanita Muscaria
Amanita muscaria, commonly known as Fly Agaric, can cause hallucinations, nausea, twitching, drowsiness, salivation, euphoria, and seizures. An overdose of this mushroom can result in a coma or cause death. Boiling the Amanita muscaria can lessen the deadliness of the mushroom but drinking the liquid of the boiled fungi will send one into a hallucinogenic episode.

Henbane is an anaesthetic and a hallucinogen, and causes restlessness, visual hallucinations, and vivid sensations of flight, sedating and causes feelings of heaviness. It is deadly and can blister skin. By drinking it in a beer, it can cause a deep sleep (beer hops cause drowsiness) and vivid dreams. The Norse were known to drink henbane beer.

The brew Aveline consumed was based on aphrodisiacs of the Medieval age. There were so many different aphrodisiacs back then, some disgusting, some not so bad, though there is hardly any legitimate proof they worked. Coriander, clove, saffron, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom seeds and red wine were all mentioned to have aphrodisiac properties, so I included this as a potion the völva used to help Aveline ‘seethe’.

As you can see, the first two items are hallucinogenic, which could cause one to believe they have been to the spirit realm, and the henbane’s property of making one vividly feel they are flying explains the illusion of flying through the air to the spirit realm.